If you've heard the word grief you've probably heard of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages:
Here's what you might not know: these stages are not linear. You can spend some time on one stage, then cycle back to an earlier stage. You can get caught in a seemingly endless loop between a couple or among a few stages. You can think you've moved on only to find that you've stepped back. If you're grieving more than one thing, you can experience multiple stages at the same time. The grief can be nested; I went through all five stages of grief over John's initial diagnosis, and now I'm working through the stages of his death.
I woke up the other day, surprisingly clear-headed, and realized that I'd spent over a year in Denial. I thought that I'd left Denial behind long ago. Come on, my husband is dead! I used to see him every day, now I don't! I used to call him on the phone, now I can't! How could I possibly be in denial when every second of every day of my life contained a reminder that he was gone?
Alas, I had an incomplete understanding of what denial really is. A few weeks ago, I found Crash Course Widow's blog. In one of her posts on grief, she talks about numbness. As I nodded my head while reading, it occurred to me that numbness and Denial were the same thing. I did not feel much during the year following John's death, mostly because I had too many other things to attend to. In the weeks and months after John died, there was an endless amount of bureaucracy to handle. And, of course, Maddie and Riley. They took up so much of my energy that I did not have much emotional space left to process the reality of John being gone. Forever.
It seems that lately, when I'm not writing about sleep, I'm writing about anger. I had been attributing my anger to sleeplessness, displeasure with my job, and the stress of raising the twins on my own. I'm sure all of that plays a role. But along with realizing that I'd been in Denial for so long, it occurred to me that perhaps some of the anger I have been feeling is Grief Anger. I was having a really hard time getting Riley to go to bed one of the nights that my mom was here last week. As I sat on the couch with her and listened to Riley cry and talked about how hard it all is, my mom gently reminded me that parenting is hard for everyone, even parents for whom it's not a solo gig. "Yes! I know!" I screeched. "But I'm also fucking pissed that John died! And it's exhausting to feel that way all the time!"
Well, OK then. Welcome to Stage 2.
Anger for me is not an isolated emotion. Along with the anger, I get a lot of guilt (Did I do enough to help John when he was sick? How could I have yelled at a guy who was dying?) and resentment (How could John leave me like this? Why has my life turned out this way?) I'm mad at John, but guilty that I feel that way. I'm mad at myself for taking my anger out on the twins. I'm jealous of my friends whose husbands are alive and well. It's one big, ugly stew of emotions.
The good news is that since realizing that my anger had less to do with Maddie and Riley and more to do with grief, my patience with the twins has been much greater. I've been kinder to them, and kinder to myself. It helps that we worked through some of the sleep issues while my parents were here (knock, knock, knock). It also helps that the kids have been doing and saying such funny stuff. The other day, Riley asked for batteries for his penis (!) Both of them are obsessed with having their fingernails painted. They are all about water play, and they can do all kinds of things at the park that make my heart stop.
I've taken almost a week off from blogging, unintentionally. I just didn't have anything to say. Hopefully my voice is coming back.